Secrets Of Psychology 3: Perceptual Contrast

Astounding image

cars - perceptual contrast

Can you believe that these cars are all the same size? That's right they are. I'm not quite sure what makes them look this way, but it must be something to do with the angle they are at on the road and with them being in a multiplying effect. It's an incredible image and one that really beggars belief! Don't believe me? Get the ruler out - i had to!

circles - small and little - illusion

Another image in which there looks no doubt about something but you will be wrong again. The 2 orange centred balls are exactly the same size. Again quite incredible.

Railway line illusion

This time a railway like image, the 2 yellow bars are exactly the same size - again incredible, you can't really believe it!

Why do these visual tricks fool us? It's all about the contrast, framing and relation to other elements

Perceptual Contrast

  • In web design we want our products and services to look and feel as important as they possibly can be
  • Compared to other items, we want maximum impact, price and service
  • Tying in with Rejection then Retreat it makes this technique even more powerful
  • Rejection then retreat is linked to reciprocity In that we give the buyer a second less expensive option, knowing that they will feel like we have conceded and given them something. They then return that favour by buying ( in a lot of cases) the second offer

If we start off at a price of £9.97 then go to a price of £27.97 then the later looks a lot more in perspective of the first figure. Whilst if we start off at £49.97 then retreat £29.97.

In going from low to high, we get this technique to work against us. We want to talk about large values then a smaller value, making the second price seem a lot smaller in contrast.

Why do we often use 7's in the price of items?

It's been proven in many tests that us humans respond the number 7 well. My own thoughts are that it's well positioned in the rank of 1 - 10. It's a good bit less then 10 yet only a few more than the half way point of 5. So instead of pricing a product at £39, £37 would be a better price point. It also works with decimals. £3.97 would be better than £4.00.

Cars sales technique

When buying a car, the price point of the car itself is always negotiated first. Then the accessories and add-ons such as sunroof, car mats and warranty are discussed. The sales man does this in much knowledge of the principle of contrast. The items when discussed in context of the deal seem a lot smaller. Buying a car for £17,000 and then discussing car mats at £350 and a warranty (to look after your higher priced car at £17,000) seem inexpensive to the car itself.

How does that effect web design?

  • Very similar advice to the Rejection then Retreat technique. Show your highest priced products first
  • This will make the buyer feel like they are getting a great deal and product in contrast the more expensive other items
  • Everything that you mention price and value wise will have a affect how relatively they see other items on the site
  • Subtly mentioning that items like these normally sell for many times your price can help sales and conversion
  • Never lie about price but perceptual contrast can help your business.
Marks spencers e-commerce store

In the above screenshot of the Marks and Spencers online shopping store we see that only on the second row if items do we see a more expensive item. Most suits on that page are around the £250 mark. The most expensive suit is £450, almost double the rest. If that was me i'd make the most expensive suit a lot more apparent and not on the second row but one of the first items on the site. As mentioned it's also not a bad idea to have the products ordered by most expensive first as well. By having a few more expensive products very apparent and in the first few items can invoke perceptual contrast, saying in relation to these other suits i'm getting a great deal here. As there are other more expensive items it really does make this a powerful technique when used in combination with rejection then retreat.

Show discounts

Showing discounts and a higher price first can also invoke perceptual contrast. If your item has ever had a higher price point then show that prominently.


  • Show highest priced items in prominent positions in your store
  • Provide and demonstrate discounts!

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